Madilyn Mulford: Student debt relief is a band-aid on a broken arm

Pausing student debt repayments leads to other problems with college costs.

(Seth Wenig | AP photo) 01 In this May 17, 2018, photo, new graduates line up before the start of the Bergen Community College commencement at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

With the current state of the American economy, student debt relief is on the minds of many Americans on both sides of the political spectrum. With inflation at its highest rate in 40 years, many middle-class families are penny-pinching as much as possible.

The pause on loan repayments has provided some relief, but the pause cannot last forever. President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive billions in student loans has some celebrating, and others feeling uneasy. For those celebrating, debt relief could significantly alleviate financial burdens, opening opportunities to invest, save or buy a home. Those who oppose this pause worry it will create more issues, such as more inflation and future burden on taxpayers.

The reality is Americans need this relief more than ever due to the unprecedented economic situation the pandemic created, but economists fear this will exacerbate existing issues and inflate taxes for not only those benefiting from debt forgiveness but also future generations of students to come. We need a better solution; a solution that targets the root of the issue.

Despite being only a junior in high school, paying for college has been at the forefront of my mind. However, as I spoke with prospective colleges, I realized how expensive college is. According to Business Insider journalists Liz Knueven and Ryan Wangman, in-state tuition averages $10,000; out-of-state around $27,000.

While talking to my more well-off peers, I found that they’re struggling to figure out how to pay for school as well. Although they’re aiming for more expensive colleges such as NYU and the University of Chicago, hearing them worry about how they’re going to pay for tuition illustrates how bad the situation is. If the wealthy are struggling to pay for college, how is the middle class supposed to find the means to? The reality for me and many other soon-to-be college students is that I’m going to have to take out loans, something I desperately don’t want to do.

Not taking out student loans has become increasingly difficult in recent years. In the last three decades, tuition rates have quadrupled. Thirty to forty percent of today’s undergraduates take out student loans, and findings from the Urban Institute claim 70% have student debt by the time they graduate. With how widespread student loans are, it would seem appealing to forgive billions of dollars in student debt, but there are consequences. In response to the relief, universities may end up increasing tuition, making college more expensive for future students, students like me.

Student debt forgiveness, although much needed, is not the solution to the underlying problem America is plagued with when it comes to college tuition. If tuition prices inflate even more as a result of debt forgiveness, come five or 10 years from now, we’ll find ourselves having this very conversation all over again.

Recent events have complicated financial situations. The pandemic set up an abnormal economy, making it difficult for recent college graduates to pay off their debt, so debt relief is somewhat called for. But we cannot continue a cycle of debt forgiveness because sooner or later it will begin to plague taxpayers, the national debt and young people like myself.

In the short term, Biden’s plan is greatly beneficial for those struggling to get afloat in a fraught economy, but if we perpetually forgive student debt, we will only keep putting band-aids over the issue. To solve expensive student debt, we need to combat rapidly inflating college tuition rates and create protections that prevent students from going into unimaginable amounts of student debt.

Madilyn Mulford

Madilyn Mulford, West Valley City, is a junior at Rowland Hall and writes for the school’s newspaper, The Gazette. This essay was the winner of the Sixth Annual Utah High School Essay Contest on Civility in Politics and Public Life sponsored by Westminster’s Honors College and underwritten by WCF Insurance. This year’s contest drew entries from 235 students from 43 high schools across the state.